Posts tagged with: Social Issues

Blog author: jballor
Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Make Work Your FavoriteIn this week’s Acton Commentary, “A Parable for the Unemployed,” I provide a brief survey of the biblical view of work, concluding with reference to the parable of the workers in the vineyard in Matthew 20. As I argue, this parable “might just as well be called the parable of the jobless. It teaches us to wait patiently and expectantly for ways that we can be of service to God through serving others.”

Or as the Theology of Work biblical commentary puts it, “If the vineyard owner represents God, this is a powerful message that in God’s kingdom, displaced and unemployed workers find work that meets their needs and the needs of those who depend on them.” If you don’t think this is a message of import for today’s world, then you might have succumbed to some statistical deception.

But from another perspective, one that the church hasn’t always fully appreciated, this parable might be taken as an illustration of the necessity for job creation. For every jobless person, some business owner or entrepreneur must create a job. Without the work the vineyard owner needed done, there would have been no jobs for those waiting in the marketplace “doing nothing.” One of the greatest things one person can do for someone is to create some meaningful and productive job for that other person to do.

And again, if the vineyard owner is understood in some sense to be in the place of God, then God has a job for each one of us to do in this world. Thus Lester DeKoster and Gerard Berghoef write in the context of other different parables that “God is a free enterpriser because he expects a return on his investments.” God expects us to be about the work he has given us, or as Jesus put it, to “be about My Father’s business.”

bloated uncle samHead Start doesn’t work. More people than ever are now on food stamps. Medicaid is staggering under the weight of its own bloat. Why are we continuing to fund bad programs?

This is what Stephen M. Krason is asking. Such programs keep expanding:

There has been a sharp increase in the food-stamp and Children’s Health Insurance programs. Obama has proposed more federal funding for Head Start and pre-school education generally, job training for laid-off workers, and Medicaid. In fact, the Affordable Care Act (“Obamacare”) has bloated the Medicaid rolls. He is even seeking free federally subsidized community college education. I have seen numbers ranging from 79 to 126 federal programs aimed at reducing poverty and an annual price tag of $668 to $927 billion.

The question is: are we getting our money’s worth? Krason says absolutely not. (more…)

slavery-handsThousands of girls and women in Iraq and Syria have been captured by the Islamic State and sold into sex slavery. But one Iraqi man is trying to save them by buying sex slaves in order to free and reunite them with their families.

As the Christian Post reports, “an Iraqi man, who remains nameless, disguises himself as a human trafficking dealer in order to ‘infiltrate’ the Islamic State and get the militants to sell him sex slaves. But in purchasing sex slaves, the man finds a way to reunite them with their fathers, husbands, and the rest of their family.”

It’s hard to criticize a man for using his resources and risking his life in order to free these women. But while the individual effects—women and girls being freed—are laudatory, the long term effect of implementing the policy on a large scale could be disastrous.

In the 1990s, humanitarian groups traveled to Sudan to redeem slaves by buying them out of slavery. The result of the program, as economist Tyler Cowen explains, was likely an increase in the number of people enslaved.

School-Desks--Empty-Classroom--GENERIC-HD--1-9-09---18449637Back in October I offered five guidelines on “how to be a better guesstimater,” ways to hone your skills at guessing and estimation — guesstimation — that will help us minimize innumeracy.

A recent Washington Post article—“Majority of U.S. public school students are in poverty”—shows how applying these five tips could prevent people from falling for obviously inaccurate reporting. Here is the main claim of the article:

For the first time in at least 50 years, a majority of U.S. public school students come from low-income families, according to a new analysis of 2013 federal data, a statistic that has profound implications for the nation.
The Southern Education Foundation reports that 51 percent of students in pre-kindergarten through 12th grade in the 2012-2013 school year were eligible for the federal program that provides free and reduced-price lunches. The lunch program is a rough proxy for poverty, but the explosion in the number of needy children in the nation’s public classrooms is a recent phenomenon that has been gaining attention among educators, public officials and researchers.

Are those numbers accurate or even plausible? Let’s see how we could apply the tools of guesstimation to this claim.

Source: AP

Source: AP

Bakers, florists, and photographers who refuse to use their creative talents to serve same-sex weddings have been fined and have had their business threatened because they refuse to violate their conscience. Many Americans—including many Christians—even argued that private business owners should be forced to violate their conscience when such practices are considered discriminatory.

But how far are they willing to defend their views? Would they, for instance, punish a baker for refusing to make a cake with anti-gay statements? As the AP reports:

A baker in suburban Denver who refused to make a cake for a same-sex wedding is fighting a legal order requiring him to serve gay couples even though he argued that would violate his religious beliefs.

But now a separate case puts a twist in the debate over discrimination in public businesses, and it underscores the tensions that can arise when religious freedom intersects with a growing acceptance of gay couples.

Marjorie Silva, owner of Denver’s Azucar Bakery, is facing a complaint from a customer alleging she discriminated against his religious beliefs.

According to Silva, the man who visited last year wanted a Bible-shaped cake, which she agreed to make. Just as they were getting ready to complete the order, Silva said the man showed her a piece of paper with hateful words about gays that he wanted written on the cake. He also wanted the cake to have two men holding hands and an X on top of them, Silva said.

Let me start by making my own view on the subject clear: Whether the request was serious or a stunt done to make a political point, I find the viewpoint expressed to be loathsome. Assuming the words were indeed “hateful” they should have no association with a symbolic representation of the Christian faith. I also believe Ms. Silva should not be forced to use her creative skills in a way that violates her conscience.

However, the logic used to argue why only certain bakers should be forced to violate their conscience reveals a despicable double standard.

socialmobility-121One of the most important important socio-economic factors in America is also one of the least talked about: social mobility.

Social mobility is the ability of an individual or family to improve (or lower) their economic status. The two main types of social mobility are intergenerational (i.e., a person is better off than their parents or grandparents) or intragenerational (i.e., income changes within a person or group’s lifetime). While there is no truly adequate gauge to measure such opportunities, we can get a fair estimate based on measurements of social mobility.

And by that measure, African Americans are fairing poorly. The Brookings Institute recently highlighted three disturbing facts about the social mobility of black Americans:

noun_86179_ccToday at Think Christian I reflect on President Obama’s State of the Union message last night. I think it was perhaps the best speech I have heard him give in terms of delivery and general tone. There are numerous things that one might quibble with in a speech of that length, of course.

My TC piece is an attempt to help us to put into proper perspective political promises and policy proposals. I look particularly at the question of economic inequality and the assumptions underlying the government’s redistributive actions.

As Danielle Kurtzleben puts it, “Obama is making a case that the economy’s distribution engine is broken, and that the recovery simply won’t fix it. His solution is for government to approach redistribution as a positive good rather than a necessary evil.”

HTFinal CoverIn 2013, the State of Michigan published its Report on Human Trafficking. In anticipation of the publication of the Acton Institute’s monograph, A Vulnerable World: The High Price of Human Trafficking, I interviewed Attorney General Bill Schuette last month.

Schuette (who served as co-chair for the Commission) explained that he realized upon his election that Michigan had a great deal of work to do in this area. As he prepared to attend the National Conference of Attorneys General, he

became aware that our state of Michigan was behind the curve and that we were low in the rankings of tools and law enforcement and assistance to victims and acknowledgement that this is a problem.

I asked Mr. Schuette this: I ask every teacher I meet, every first responder I meet, every medical personnel I meet, “Have you ever received any training on human trafficking?” And I’ve never had a yes. What do you say about that? He responded:

[U]nfortunately, the past has been that not enough people have been trained to spot, deal with, observe, try to stop human trafficking. And that’s one of the features that I think law enforcement in Michigan will move towards now, and that is having training sessions and training seminars, whether you’re EMS or sheriff patrol or a local police organization, where you learn about human trafficking. That’s an area that we have to improve. I’m not surprised by [your informal survey] because that was one of these glaring issues that came out in our 5 subgroups or working groups that wanted to, in essence, attack in the state of Michigan. That’s one of the proposals that’s high on my agenda.


bias-word-cloud-square“Psychologists have demonstrated the value of diversity—particularly diversity of viewpoints—for enhancing creativity, discovery, and problem solving,” say a team of social scientists in a new paper. “But one key type of viewpoint diversity is lacking in academic psychology in general and social psychology in particular: political diversity.”

Social psychology is an interdisciplinary domain that bridges the gap between psychology and sociology by studying how people’s thoughts, feelings, and behaviors are influenced by the actual, imagined, or implied presence of others. The field studies a range of topics—from persuasion and propaganda to racial and gender issues—that profoundly affect society. Yet people whose views on politics and society are monolithic dominate the science.

What is needed, say the researchers, is ideological diversity, specifically more “non-liberals.” Their article reviews the available evidence and finds support for four claims:


_70189222_464_unemployedSeries Note: Jobs are one of the most important aspects of a morally functioning economy. They help us serve the needs of our neighbors and lead to human flourishing both for the individual and for communities. Conversely, not having a job can adversely affect spiritual and psychological well-being of individuals and families. Because unemployment is a spiritual problem, Christians in America need to understand and be aware of the monthly data on employment. Each month highlight the latest numbers we need to know (see also: What Christians Should Know About Unemployment).

Positive news is marked with the plus sign (+) while negative employment data is marked with a minus sign (-). No significant change is marked by (NC).